Technically, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness is Hammer Films’ third entry in their Dracula franchise, but the second that directly connects to their version of Dracula (1958). Prince of Darkness begins with a recap of the 1958 film, flashing back to when Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) finally put an end to Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) reign of terror upon the countryside. It’s been ten years since that fateful moment, and what we learn is that his “incorporeal essence” still has strength enough to influence the material plane. The locals still fear vampirism, so much so that the “normal” death of a girl can bring about unfounded fears. Enter Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who’s a monk with a rifle and the desire to not see these crazy peasants desecrate this girl’s corpse.
Later on, at the same local pub Cushing first walked into in the first film looking for his friend Harker, two brothers on a vacation, Charles (Francis Mathews) and Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell), and their wives, Helen (Barbara Shelly) and Diana (Suzan Farmer), bump into Father Sandor. He warns them to stay away from Dracula’s castle, but as usual, in these movies, warnings like these fall on deaf ears. During their coach ride, their coachman balks at the setting sun and decides to evict them right there in the woods and return home, promising to take them all the way tomorrow if they are still here when he comes back.
Decision time, do the Kents stay the night in the nearby dilapidated shack or proceed on to the castle they can see in the distance and sleep in better accommodations? Well, If they chose the shack, we wouldn’t have a movie and everyone would still be alive in the end. Where’s the fun in that?
Just as their coach disappears out of sight another, driverless, coach appears. Perfect, now they don’t have to stay anywhere and can proceed on to the next town as planned. Throwing caution to the wind, and not looking a gift horse in the mouth, the Kents toss their luggage onto the back and try to steer it in the direction they want to go. Despite their efforts, Dracula’s influence takes the horses straight to the castle.
You see, this is exactly what he’s been waiting for: an opportunity to get his body back. All he needs to make that happen is a lot of blood. It’s not clear whether the servant they meet, Klove (Philip Lathem), was an emergency measure put into place prior by Dracula in case he ever met an untimely end, or whether he reached out from beyond the grave and influenced this man to set up shop and always keep it ready to accept visitors in case any were to appear (a.k.a. flies caught in a web). Regardless of how he came to be in the Prince Of Darkness’s employ, he does as he is commanded, feeding the travelers, setting them and their belongings up in respective rooms for the night and waiting for just the right time to strike.
This sequel finally introduces Stoker’s Renfield character into the mix. Here, he’s somewhat of a captive of the monks and is named Ludig. As Sandor explains, they found him twelve years ago roaming near the castle, clearly out of his mind, supposedly from something he witnessed. This time frame would put the events that caused Ludig’s madness two years before Dracula’s demise, and is entirely feasible that he did witness some kind of atrocious site connected to the Count.
Dracula reaches out to him and forces his aid in attacking the monks as he tries to reclaim his “property,” that being Diana Kent. Most of this movie appears to take place during summer, but I didn’t know what to make of the frozen moat water on which Charles Kent and Dracula have their final confrontation.
I was under the impression that Peter Cushing had returned for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but learned he was only billed in the opening credits for the flashbacks in the beginning. Father Sandor is the Van Helsing of this movie. In the end, I was cool with that, and enjoyed the movie very much. I dug the “haunted castle vibe” before the Count shows, too.
On September 17th, Millennium Entertainment finally debuted the movie stateside on blu-ray. I thought the 1.85:1 anamorphic High Definition transfer was very good looking, and the audio, English 2.0 Dolby Stereo, just fine as well. Subtitles are English only.
There’s a nice commentary with four of the actors from the film, Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer. When the movie starts off, none of them introduce themselves, they just begin talking. This may be a problem for anyone not familiar with Hammer or these actors, but for me, I have seen them enough where I could recognize their voices; Lee’s obviously being the most recognizable. Matthews doesn’t say a lot; Lee, Shelley and Farmer converse the most with Lee taking the lead most of the time. This commentary, incidentally, has been ported over from Anchor Bay’s 1998 release and I assume it was also used on the blu-ray Hammer released of it last year in the UK.
The other main extra is the documentary, ‘Back To Black: The Making Of Dracula, Prince Of Darkness’ (30:33) it covers the making of, marketing, music and the restoration of it for blu-ray. Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews are interviewed, but the stories they recount are the same ones they tell on the commentary.
‘Episode 11 of World Of Hammer’ (24:57) is also included which focuses on the various roles Christopher Lee played in his Hammer career.
A brief ‘Restoration Comparison’ (3:56) is included showing various scenes before and after the movie was restored. Rounding out the extras is a restored trailer (:36), a nice Still Gallery (5:46) and the inclusion of 5 lobby cards in an envelope. Nice touch there. I hope all future Hammer blu-ray releases come with the cards.
For those living in Canada, or even abroad, for they deliver internationally, you can buy Dracula, Prince Of Darkness from Boulevard Movies. They specialize in cult films. Their website is located here, and their Facebook page is here.